Headline(s) Reaction

And thoughts on swapping out Biden.

Source: The White House

I was reading other news when I noted the following on the online frontpage of the NYT:

I have not read the pieces, so this is pure, uncut headline reaction.

And my first reaction is this: two conservatives have opinions about Biden’s age. Truly stunning stuff.

My more detailed reaction is as follows.

May I note that it is kind of absurd to pretend that one line and some other references from Hur’s report are the tipping point in all of this? This is not the first time anyone has noticed that Biden is old (certainly not the first time the NYT has commented upon it). Moreover, Hur’s report is clearly causing a lot of Democrats to rally around their candidate (i.e., the news isn’t all bad for Biden). And let’s not forget how the news cycle works. We will be on to some other immediately dramatic thing by next weekend, if not by Monday afternoon.

Further, Douthat is simply wrong. For a host of reasons including the fact that Biden is almost certainly the party’s strongest candidate. Except, of course, the ever-popular Hypothetical Candidate. I mean, that guy would crush it!

On this point, I would again note a piece I linked in a tab-clearing post by Matthew Shugart: Would Democrats be better off replacing Biden? Matthew is one of the world’s leading experts on electoral systems and has written extensively on presidentialism. He notes in the post:

It would be hard to find whatever narrow window there is through which Biden himself weighs down the party, but the party could find an alternative who could save it. Maybe the window exists, but good luck locating it, let alone locating the perfect candidate to ride to victory in both a primary and a general.

Basically, in presidential systems and the “presidentialized” parties that result, any election is a referendum on the incumbent–whether he is personally on the ballot or not.

[…]

Bottom line, if he is weak enough that the party should replace him, the party is weak enough that it has bigger problems than Biden. 

He goes on to specifically note the problems inherent in a primary challenge (which is no longer on the table, so I will not go down that rabbit hole).

But in other words: if you jettison an incumbent president because they have some negatives, you don’t just jettison the negatives, you jettison the positives as well. A lot of this talk of replacing Biden operates from the incorrect position that a new nominee could simply take Biden’s positives and just replace the negative of his age with youth and vigor. But since being the incumbent president is one of Biden’s positives, that immediately goes away without Biden. Further, without Biden as the head of the ticket, you can’t make any arguments based on any of the good things that have happened during the administration, at least not in the same way you can as the incumbent president.

Given the presidentialized nature of parties in systems such as ours, removing Biden would be an admission by the Democrats that something was wrong with the party–and that would have electoral ramifications. And at this point, if he just stepped down because of age, it would also be an admission of error. Granted, some dramatic event (a major health problem) could upturn the applecart, but that would be true for a 60-year-old.

Put another way, Biden choosing to step down now due to age, or the party forcing him out would be letting a thousand “Dems in Disarray” headline bloom.

So, in many ways, the choices for the Democrats are to 1) find a way to make the argument that they have an old, competent, candidate who isn’t Trump and who has some real successes as president; or 2) demonstrate that they were too stupid to realize that Joe was old and then try and play catch up between now and November in a media environment that would skewer them to death.

It is an utter fantasy that the best way to proceed is to change horses now.

Let me conclude by noting the following from Matthew’s post, as it echoes things I frequently write about:

And finally there is one more problem, which only makes all the above worse for the “change the nominee” crowd. It is not as if there exists a PARTY with authority to order Biden off the ticket. US parties do not work that way. I suspect most presidentialized parties do not have that ability in practice, although there may be exceptions in some other presidential systems. Seeking reelection is, ultimately, his choice, and other actors can only complicate whether he can pull it off, or go along for the ride. That’s presidentialization!

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Democracy, US Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Scott F. says:

    Bottom line, if he is weak enough that the party should replace him, the party is weak enough that it has bigger problems than Biden.

    The inverse bottom line is the Democratic Party is strong enough (at least in comparison to the only other party in our system) that Biden isn’t a problem.

    The Democrats have all the political content they need to fill the airwaves with ads and spokespeople on the news shows touting the accomplishments of the Biden administration. The economy has had the strongest recovery in the world with inflation improving, the administration’s handling of the several foreign crises it has faced has been a good as one could hope, and important bipartisan legislation has been passed. Even the border situation shows advantage over the alternative now that the Republicans have sabotaged the best shot in a decade at an immigration reform bill.

    The media, especially conservative media, is going to do the Biden is old coverage, because “everything is going quite well” isn’t as interesting to write about and their compulsion for balancing their coverage of the Trump/GOP dumpster fire is so strong. Let them. The counter message is good enough to overcome that.

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  2. update: I initially misread Scott’s comment, but in the interest of full disclosure, I will leave the response anyway.

    @Scott F.: Except that it literally does not work like that.

    Part of Matthew’s point about presidentialized parties is that presidents are actually more important than the party in such systems (in that sense that voters judge the party based on the president and, moreover, the president shapes the party. See, e.g., Trump).

    This is to be contrasted with parliamentary systems wherein the party is more important than the prime minister.

    I would recommend Matthew’s book with Samuels, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers.

    On a more generic note, I would suggest you look at how most voters understand American politics and pay attention to how much they reduce it to the presidency.

    The issue is not how we might think it ought to be, but rather how it is.

    One of the reasons that I would favor a parliamentary system is that it does tend to privilege parties over individuals. Not only does presidentialism increase the focus on individual candidates instead of parties, a host of other factors, to include primaries, further enhances that mental approach to politics.

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  3. So, I initially read Scott’s comment as an argument that Democrats are strong enough that they could replace Biden. I misread and reacted–a reread suggests I misread.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    The only person who can swap Biden out is Biden. It’s his decision.

    I don’t entirely agree that Newsom or Whitmer or Kamala can’t claim Joe’s accomplishments. We’d need to shift the debate a smidge, more toward party rather than person.

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  5. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I see your update, but I just wanted to reinforce this:

    On a more generic note, I would suggest you look at how most voters understand American politics and pay attention to how much they reduce it to the presidency.

    As this is no doubt true, the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy for 2024 is then to lead voters to recognize all the favorable conditions I’ve described and have them reduce that to President Biden. His age suddenly won’t seem all that relevant.

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  6. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    update: I initially misread Scott’s comment, but in the interest of full disclosure, I will leave the response anyway.

    Kudos for doing this. It’s not an easy thing to do. And if we all did it, we would be in a much better place.

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  7. Kathy says:

    Oh, this is done all the time. Remember when HW Bush switched running mates in 1992? What? Not in this timeline? Next you’ll be claiming Ford didn’t drop out in favor of Reagan in 1976! Yeah, like Carter made way for Ted Kennedy, too. Did someone spill diet coke on the time circuits?

    This is not like 1968, when the incumbent did drop out for various valid reasons. And a good thing too, seeing who won the general election in 68.

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  8. Not the IT Dept. says:

    And Trump is only 4 years younger than Biden and raves like a lunatic at least twice a day – but it’s Biden who should be swapped out? I’m getting really tired of this nonsense. He’s done a good job – better than he’ll ever get credit for. Come on, people, get a grip!

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  9. Gustopher says:

    My reaction to the headlines is that The NY Times needs more diversity of opinions, and an editor strong enough to tell one of those writers “too bad, the other guy already wrote this piece.”

    Conservative opinion writers move in lock step, you don’t need more than one, and certainly not on the same day.

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  10. JKB says:

    Look at it this way, Biden’s age and infirmity was going to be an issue this year. So the Democrats are dealing with it in February instead of at the convention. Of course, the real issue if Biden remains is Kamala. The voters will know that the VP is more likely to end up as president if Biden is the president. And that means the VP candidate has more poignance than in previous years.

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  11. DK says:

    We will be on to some other immediately dramatic thing by next weekend, if not by Monday afternoon.

    You mean Sec. Austin doesn’t need to resign after his big scary important hospitalization scandal?

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  12. Scott F. says:

    @JKB:
    Kamala? It’s Vice President Harris to you, plebe!

    My god, it must be exhausting spending all your waking hours trying to create controversy for the Democrats where there is so little to work with, while simultaneously burying the steady stream of mendacity, corruption, ineptitude, and grift pouring forth from the Republicans.

    Take some time for yourself, man. You can’t possibly be caring for your mental health.

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  13. al Ameda says:

    I realize that this has no relationship to an ‘independent’ attorney’s opinion and diagnosis of dementia, but, does anyone else remember when in 2019, Trump in his July 4th speech said that the Continental Army “took over the airports” from the British during the Revolutionary War?

    Honestly, Merrick Garland should have done a ‘Bill Barr’ and redacted Hur’s medical opinion from that report. Garland as AG has been the equivalent of bringing a staple gun to a gun fight.

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  14. Bill Jempty says:

    Steven,

    And let’s not forget how the news cycle works. We will be on to some other immediately dramatic thing by next weekend, if not by Monday afternoon.

    This isn’t going away. Especially this part of Biden’s press conference=

    Tall, blond and loud, Peter Doocy of the conservative Fox News network, which is pushing the geriatric case against Biden hard, noted that the special counsel called Biden a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”. The president parried: “I’m well-meaning and I’m an elderly man and I know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve been president and I put this country back on its feet.”

    Biden admitted the first two things Hur said are correct and then doesn’t address the third part about the third part. Is that a sign of Biden’s poor memory?

    Sure as hell can be used as ammunition that he is.

    Two things not being pointed out much. First that Merrick Garland didn’t have to make Hur’s report public.

    Read Section 600.9 here

    The Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions. All other releases of information by any Department of Justice employee, including the Special Counsel and staff, concerning matters handled by Special Counsels shall be governed by the generally applicable Departmental guidelines concerning public comment with respect to any criminal investigation, and relevant law.

    So we have a self inflicted wound.

    Second, that foreign adversaries of this country can take all these as signs that Biden is feeble and this is time to take advantage. Kissinger in his memoirs said that the US was fortunate when this country’s opponents didn’t try taking advantage of a politically crippled President. Namely Nixon from late 73 to his resignation in August 1974.

    Again the Democrats are heading for a defeat in November if they stay the course with Biden. We’re risking a dictatorship just because the Democratic party doesn’t have the guts to get the President to step aside for the good of his country.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.: People don’t like Harris. And certain people, the ones who really worry about brightening their sheets, really dislike Harris.

    She’s a middle-of-the-road, not-particularly-inspiring mainstream Democrat with the baggage of being Black and a woman, and ambition that seems out of place with her accomplishments and her ability as a communicator.

    That said, I don’t think she’s pulling the ticket down, as the people who actually dislike her are —ahem— a key part of the Republican base. She would make a perfectly adequate caretaker president if Biden were to die in office or step down due to health or just waking up one morning and not feeling it in his bones or whatever. I do worry that she would run in 2028.

    I don’t like the pattern of ambitious people who want to be president becoming VP. If nothing else, it almost never works and really calls into question their judgment. In the past 50 years, only Biden and George HW Bush pulled it off. Ford too, I guess, but that’s very special.

    (50 years is a nice round number, but cuts off Nixon. Weirdly, both Nixon and Biden only got elected as president at least a term after their term as VP.)

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @Bill Jempty:

    We’re risking a dictatorship just because the Democratic party doesn’t have the guts to get the President to step aside for the good of his country.

    I blame you. You failed to run for president in the primaries. You failed to build a coalition of Democratic voters to compete. It’s all your fault.

    Is that unfair? At least you are an actual person with agency, unlike “the Democrats” which is a nebulous group with no independent agency.

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  17. DK says:

    @Bill Jempty:

    We’re risking a dictatorship just because the Democratic party doesn’t have the guts to get the President to step aside for the good of his country.

    We’re risking a dictatorship because a majority of white voters — especially a majority white male voters — and misguided bootlickers from a bevy of other demographics still think it’s okay to vote for Traitor Trump, a racist and rapist scumbag who leads a violent, extremist, anti-American movement called ‘the modern Republican Party.’

    There is no valid excuse to support 77-year old neofascist Trump, not even 81-year old Biden. Potential Trump voters are fully responsible for their terrible political decisions, not Democrats or anyone else. It’s well past time for Americans to pushback on the pretense that Trump’s enablers are choiceless innocents devoid of agency.

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  18. Moosebreath says:

    @JKB:

    “The voters will know that the VP is more likely to end up as president if Biden is the president.”

    Than if Trump is President? Not really, given Trump’s girth and fits of rage.

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  19. just nutha says:

    @Bill Jempty: Should we look for a post from you for the item at the top of the page, soon?

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  20. Chris says:

    Unpopular opinion 1: Biden is actually a good president, and this in part is due to his longevity in Washington politics. This is an administration that’s stablized the economy and has passed some big acts (CHIPS, inflation reduction), against a GOP House, and managed to outperform expectations in the midterms. The fact that the president has been in frontline politics for 50 years helps the administration get stuff done.

    Unpopular opinion 2: the presidency involves wisdom more than cognitive felicity. The president takes advice, weighs up options, decides, and delegates execution to their staff. They don’t have to solve sudokus. Experience and wisdom are important, verbal and mental quickness help (especially with debates, press conferences etc) but are less important than being able to reach sound decisions.

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  21. Scott F. says:

    @Gustopher:

    People don’t like Harris. And certain people, the ones who really worry about brightening their sheets, really dislike Harris.

    People don’t like Biden, either. (See his current approval numbers.) But, I believe if it were to come to it, the accomplishments of the Biden administration would redound to her in much the same way as they will to Biden. That is if the Democrats stay on the message Biden put forward recently:

    In 2022, the red wave was coming and guess what.. It crashed up on a rock. In 2023, we won every close race. When voters have a choice between what we stand for and what Trump and MAGA Republicans stand for, we win… Which makes Trump and his MAGA friends losers.

    In 2020, weren’t we all describing Biden as a middle-of-the-road, not-particularly-inspiring mainstream Democrat? He’s surprised us all, no? And once in office, I contend Harris’ “baggage” becomes historical glass ceiling breaking that a great number of non-MAGAt Americans would find inspiring. Misogyny and racism aside, she would surprise us all as well.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.: I remembered Biden being to the left of Obama whenever we saw a difference between the two during Obama’s administrations, so I’m not 100% surprised that he’s stayed that way.

    I would still put him as a middle-of-the-road (left side of middle), and not particularly inspiring. He’s lost a bit of the energy he used to have, and either no longer connects with people as effortlessly or just isn’t around people as often.

    I get it, he can’t have a biker in her 50s sitting on his lap while her husband/boyfriend looks on a bit perplexed anymore, but he needs to actually interact with people to connect and inspire.

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  23. Ken_L says:

    Instead of hand-wringing about Mr Hur making a point that many people are concerned about, Democrats should reflect on the way Trump turned the Mueller investigation into a political asset: ‘TOTAL VINDICATION‘ despite the ‘Deep State’ and ‘Mueller’s [insert random number of] angry Democrats’ inventing the ‘RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA! HOAX’.

    I’m not suggesting Democrats run a carbon copy response, but they should launch a full-throated attack on Hur’s impartiality and incompetence and Garland’s lack of judgement. There’s plenty of material to work with – see Macy Wheeler and https://www.justsecurity.org/92090/the-real-robert-hur-report-versus-what-you-read-in-the-news/ for starters.

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  24. JKB says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Trump’s running mate is likely to matter as well. But what are the odds Trump will pick someone who can’t speak coherently and appears drunk in her public appearances?

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  25. Moosebreath says:

    @JKB:

    Depends on whether Trump is looking to double down on his ticket. If so, 100%.

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